I recently saw a sales-focused forum discussion headed with the question “What does it mean when a company lets engineering take over product development?”
I thought it sounded interesting so followed it and was staggered by the responses. Of course there were one or two considered opinions but the vast majority were on the lines of “big trouble”, “the end of the company”, “sales just got harder”, “get out quick”, “you are screwed”, “time to run” and “a product that works but no-one will know about”.
Most alarming was the widely expressed view that engineers are inward looking and know nothing about what customers want or how to communicate with them. Can that be true?
Sure, engineers may sometimes earn their reputation for geekiness but how can they be so removed from the sharp end of commercial business? If leaving product development to engineers is so disastrous where do all the great products come from? Of course there is more to success than product innovation and great products have to be brought to market with skill and dexterity but why should engineers be viewed so negatively by sales and marketing, and, I suspect, vice-versa? If we stick to stereotypes the reasons are easy to see.
From a sales and marketing perspective, engineers are slow, plodding, awkward, and shy. They are hung up on detail, always see the negative, look for reasons why something won’t work and would rather spend time with their laptop than the lads. Sales and marketers on the other hand are extrovert, buzzing, full of energy and confidence, with a ‘can do’ attitude and brilliant communication skills. They look for answers and move quickly.
Engineers, of course, see things differently. They see themselves as thoughtful and methodical, with enquiring minds and great attention to detail. They see themselves as innovative problem-solvers and magnificent creators. Engineers see sales and marketing as shallow, loud, thoughtless and unimaginative bores, who promise the earth without the smallest thought to how it will be delivered.
Sadly many choose to look no further than these caricatures. Fortunately in reality things aren’t that simple, indeed the caricatures are just plain wrong. So let’s step away from the stereotypes and look at what’s really going on.
I talked in an earlier blog about the ‘sales sandwich’ which suggested selling a new innovation is a three stage process; identify and understand a need, develop a solution that meets that need and present the solution to the market. Clearly stage two is predominantly the realm of the engineers, while sales and marketing take care of stage three. It’s stage one where things become less clear.
It’s the job of sales to monitor customers and seek out changes that can be developed into new opportunities. It’s the role of marketing to monitor markets and seek out changes that can be developed into new opportunities.
And it’s the role of engineering to monitor and seek out technological changes – that can be developed into new opportunities. Not so different after all.
So all three disciplines are on the same side and doing the same thing, using their particular expertise to identify, develop and exploit changes that present new opportunities to design and deliver new value creating solutions. By working together, and sharing ideas earlier and more often, there are real synergies and tremendous opportunities for creating competitive differentiation and sales advantage.
You’re all on the same side, so stop seeing each other as opposites. By replacing mutual suspicion with mutual trust let’s see what you really can achieve.
Huthwaite International is headline sponsor for the National Sales Awards.